Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
In my work with individuals who are living with diabetes or other chronic conditions, I don’t think a day passes by when I don’t have a conversation with a client who feels defeated in some way.
Clients may slip up on their self-care routine and be experiencing the consequences, or they are being compliant and still are not getting the results they expected. Or, friends and family haven’t been supportive or made a promise but didn’t come through. Sometimes what seems like defeat is coming from more than one source, leaving clients to feel plain old defeated by life.
Let’s face it, life doesn’t always go the way we thought it would or should. Nobody knows that better than someone who is living with a chronic condition. It’s only human nature to feel defeated when life seems tough.
Let’s take a look at that word “defeat.” How about if we changed “defeat” into “lesson?” Are you game?
Here’s how to get started:
1. Lighten up on yourself. We’re not prepared for living with the challenges of a chronic condition. There’s no pre-preparation course (Who would sign up for it?). Everybody’s figuring it out as they go along, and nobody’s an expert.
2. Blaming doesn’t help. It feels good to have a target when you vent (and it’s okay to vent when you need to). But blaming yourself just makes you feel worse. We have no control over other people, so blaming them probably isn’t going to get you any satisfaction either. And sometimes, things just happen. The blame game is a loser.
3. Take a step back and focus on the lesson. What can you learn from this situation? You may be able to identify something that you could have done differently. This may be pretty clear, for example, if you left out something in your self-care routine or made a change without talking it over with your doctor. But the lesson may also be about your relationships and what you can and can’t expect from the people in your life. (Here’s a question: is feeling defeated the result of demanding that life conform to your expectations?) Finding the lesson might mean taking a hard look at yourself. And that’s not easy.
4. Check in with your support network. Don’t go through this alone. Sit down and talk with an objective listener. Or post a discussion. Get some help in sorting through your feelings, and get a fresh perspective on your situation.
5. Loop the learning back into your self-care plan. And your attitude. So what did you learn? And more important, what are you going to do about it? Identify the lesson.
Strategize on what you can do/think/believe differently moving forward. This can be a good time to review your self-care plan with your physician, for example, and see if any adjustments need to be made. It can also be a good time to sit down with a friend or family member and talk about how you’re communicating and working together (or how you haven’t been). Consider how you might shift your perspective toward what’s working, and what’s possible, in your life. Recommit to taking the best possible care of yourself!
6. Get back up on your horse. Challenging situations are great teachers. So with the lesson in hand, make the decision to do your best to apply what you learned. But keep that inner critique in check. Move forward one step at a time. Don’t forget to ask for help.
Defeat? No. Opportunity to learn? Yes! And remember: the lessons will just keep coming. That’s life. That’s how we keep growing. And that’s great, right?